Downtown: Public Square and the Mall

Tour curated by: The Cleveland Historical Team

This tour features historic sites in or near Downtown Cleveland's Public Square and Mall. Many of the sites in this tour reflect Cleveland's two-century struggle to find a city center that speaks most meaningfully to its identity.

Public Square, surveyed and laid out by New Englander Moses Cleaveland in 1796, is the traditional center of Downtown Cleveland. Edifices like Soldiers and Sailors Monument and Old Stone Church are nineteenth-century testaments to the Square as city center. The Mall, designed in the first decade of the twentieth century during the mayoral administration of noted Progressive Tom L. Johnson, challenged Public Square for the title of city center. The Daniel Burnham-designed Group Plan, an expression of the national "City Beautiful Movement," surrounded the Mall with civic buildings such as Cleveland City Hall, Cuyahoga County Courthouse, and Cleveland Public Library. The construction of the Terminal Tower and the relocation of Higbee's Department Store to Public Square in the 1930s marked a resurgence of the Square as city center.

In 1990, Key Tower surpassed the Terminal Tower as Cleveland's tallest building. Although it technically fronts the Mall, Key Tower nonetheless reinforced the importance of Public Square as a business hub. More recently, despite a redesign of the Mall and the opening of new hotels and exhibition venues on its flanks, the 2016 dedication of a completely redesigned Public Square returned Cleveland's historic heart to a position of centrality. Both the Public Square and Mall renovations reflected decades of ideas but were catalyzed by Mayor Frank Jackson's embrace of a Group Plan Commission that drew inspiration from the age of Daniel Burnham and Tom Johnson.

Locations for Tour

Laid out by Moses Cleaveland's surveying party in 1796 in the tradition of the New England village green, Public Square marked the center of the Connecticut Land Company's plan for Cleveland and, soon, a ceremonial space for the growing…

First Presbyterian Church, commonly referred to as the Old Stone Church, is located on the northwest quadrant of Cleveland's Public Square at the corner of Ontario and Rockwell Streets. Possibly Cleveland's best-known religious building,…

Amid the busy streets of downtown Cleveland stands the Soldiers and Sailors' Monument, built to honor the 10,000 Cuyahoga county residents who fought in the Civil War. Almost fifteen years after Major William J. Gleason first suggested the idea…

Born into a wealthy family in 1854, Tom L. Johnson did not originally have political intentions or aspirations. Instead, he started off as an inventor and street railway magnate with holdings in companies in Indianapolis, St. Louis, Missouri,…

Formally dedicated in 1930 following over four years of extensive demolition, excavation, and construction, the Cleveland Union Terminal centralized the city's passenger rail service and gave Cleveland a signature landmark, the 52-story,…

In November of 1981, the Standard Oil Co. announced that it would build its new headquarters overlooking Cleveland's Public Square. The timing could not have been better. The City of Cleveland was troubled financially, the population was…

On October 30, 1990, Cleveland’s skyline became the backdrop for a symbolic transfer of power and prestige: The frame of Society Corporation's new headquarters surpassed the Terminal Tower in height. Cleveland was now looking forward instead…

The new May Company department store opened on Public Square in 1915. Containing over 800,000 square feet of floor space, it was said to be the third largest store in the nation. Built by world-famous architect and city planner Daniel Burnham (who…

Downtown Cleveland at the turn of the twentieth century was a crowded and noisy place. Specialized, multi-level passageways lined with shops - known as arcades - were built in order for people to escape the clamor of the streets, as well as the often…

The Group Plan of 1903 was an ambitious city-planning scheme that—as much as any single initiative—shaped downtown Cleveland. The Plan’s six public buildings are the Federal Building (1910, now the Howard Metzenbaum US Courthouse), the Cuyahoga…

When the city approved the Group Plan of 1903, it was believed that the Mall would become the city’s functional and symbolic center. The long stretch of land northeast of Public Square would turn a former slum into a parklike space, and a…

Cuyahoga County was established in 1807—eleven years after “Cleaveland” became a city and four years after Ohio became a state. For the next century, multiple structures provided judicial services for the county. Initially, court was held in…

On July 3, 1916, Cleveland city councilmen convened for their weekly meeting. But this was no ordinary get-together. Instead, it was the legislators’ inaugural gathering in Cleveland’s glamorous new city hall at 601 Lakeside Avenue—the very…

Cleveland’s 1903 Group Plan was a grand undertaking: one of the era’s most ambitious and successful attempts to turn what civic leaders saw as an irredeemable slum into a “City Beautiful,” replete with dignified new structures and striking…

Spanning more than 200 feet along Superior Avenue and East 6th Street, the thirteen-story Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland sits comfortably among neighboring Group Plan structures in the city's Civic Center district. The building is a reminder…

The Cleveland Public Library comprises one of the largest collections in the United States: nearly ten million items. The Library’s two buildings on Superior Avenue (the main structure, 1925) and the Stokes Wing (1997) command an entire city block…

In the 1920s Cleveland's Public Auditorium was among the largest and most popular meeting venues in the United States. By the end of the 20th century, Cleveland and Public Auditorium were fighting tooth and nail for second-tier convention…

Until 2013, the administrative headquarters of the Cleveland Board of Education was an iconic sandstone, Beaux-Arts structure located at 1380 East 6th Street on the east side of Mall A. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1975,…

The story of Cleveland’s Global Center for Health Innovation is almost as multifaceted as the products, services, and solutions offered by its myriad members. Even the organization’s name has twists and turns: Readers are more likely to recognize…
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